Family Life at Topaz

Boy walking in mud
Image of boy walking through mud outside of a barrack.
(Utah State University, Merrill-Cazier Library, Special Collections & Archives, Leonard J. Arrington Photograph Collection, P0316, Box 3, Fd. 27, image 15B)

While internment did bring some families together, for the most part, family relations suffered at Topaz—especially in families with adolescents and young adults. Teenagers did not have to eat with their families, instead they ate in a mess hall with their friends. Cramped living quarters also negatively affected family life as there was no privacy. Some youth returned to their barracks only to sleep.[1] As a result, youth became less dependent on the parents and many rebelled against their parents, teachers, and the WRA.

“Our Younger Generation”
“Our Younger Generation” by Hiro Katayama. This article discusses the difficulties that youth encountered at Topaz, including boredom and lack of educational support. Katayama argues that in order for youth to become Americanized, they must be able to relocate outside of the internment camps.
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(Courtesy of the Topaz Museum)

While at Topaz, some youth began to be unruly, destroying and vandalizing property, bullying others, walking out of class, and back-talking to their parents and teachers.[2] In one instance, students flung coal-filled snowballs at a teacher.[3] In another instance, Fumi Hayashi recalls “we had one time a mud fight that turned out to be a little bit of grudge match.” [4] Their parents noted that the children’s behavior was unprecedented, as their children had not behaved this way before the camps.

Grace Fujimoto, who was a high school student at Topaz, explains that this negative behavior typified the negative elements of American behavior. She comments that these students were just “being American.” [5] Along the same lines, Hiro Katayama argued in “Our Younger Generation” that the camp dynamic at Topaz caused discords among families and the misbehavior of youth. He argued that in order to fix the problem, families must relocate outside of the camp so their children could be raised in a normal environment. Inside the camps, the WRA imposed American ideas onto the youth in an artificial and destructive setting, but outside of the camps, youth would be able to Americanize naturally.[6]

[1] Taylor, 127.
[2] Taylor, 126.
[3] Tohmatsu, 69.
[4] Tohmatsu, 70.
[5] Taylor, 126.
[6] Hiro Katayama, “Our Younger Generation,” in All Aboard, 43–45.